Faculté des sciences sociales et politiques, Université de Lausanne
Thèse en cours
What is a prairie vole? In recent years, this North American rodent has risen to fame as a highly social, bi-parental and monogamous rodent: features that have gained it much attention in the brain sciences. In search of pharmacological treatments for psychopathologies that affect social interaction (notably autism and schizophrenia), certain researchers hope that the “humanlike” behavior of this rodent could help disclose the neurobiological agents required for a functional social life in human society.
But are humans bi-parental and monogamous? Should they be? In fact, are prairie voles so? In its past, the prairie vole, Microtus ochrogaster, has been associated with a wide variety of conflicting characteristics, being at times described as promiscuous, monogamous, tolerant, cannibalistic, communal or territorially possessive. This doctoral thesis investigates how the varying behaviors attributed to this animal, and the patterns and paradigms used to derive meaning from it, allow insight into which elements and processes researchers at a given time and place consider constitutive of social life in animal communities and human societies. By retracing the prairie vole’s trajectory as a subject in zoological and behavioural publications from 1907 to 2020, I propose to look at how it becomes monogamous in zoology, and how this status as a monogamous rodent earns it the rank of an accurate model for human behaviour in biological psychiatry. By defining the monogamous pair bond as the foundational constituent of human social life, what type of society are these researchers envisioning? The pharmacological applications promised by neuroscientists working with prairie voles make these accounts of social life not only the stuff of discourse and debate, but of implementable clinical practice.